"Nightfall and Other Stories" Review

Short Story Anthology: Nightfall and Other Stories
By Isaac Asimov
Published by Del Rey

Asimov is a legend in the SF field. He read voraciously and wrote copiously and seemed to know everything. He wrote a whole bunch of books explaining science in words that people like me can understand.

What SF fans loved him for was his fiction, though. My favourites were the I, Robot stories, but a lot of people preferred his Foundation series where history is used to predict the future.

I used to think Asimov's writing style was very dry, but upon re-reading Nightfall and Other Stories, I found it much more poetic than I remembered. Perhaps I used to read very different stuff when I was younger than I do now. Perhaps it's all relative.

What struck me upon this re-reading was the craftsmanlike way the stories are told. Asimov took the time to set the stories up so that the reader would know exactly what was going on and what was at stake. His characters get described to some extent, and some kind of background is provided for them. Take opening of his famous story, Nightfall, for example:

Aton 77, director Saro University, thrust out a belligerent lower lip and glared at the young newspaperman in a hot fury.

Theremon 762 took that fury in his stride. In his earlier days, when his now widely syndicated column was only a mad idea in a cub reporter's mind, he had specialized "impossible" interviews. It had cost him bruises, black yes, and broken bones; but it had given him an ample supply of coolness and self-confidence.
On second thoughts, you can see what I mean by the 'dryness'. On the other hand, look at the amount of information in these lines is amazing. The kinds of names the characters have, the university, the story of the cub reporter now famous. No wonder Asimov was so good at Feghoots (stories not just extremely short but also ending in a pun.)

The poetry I discovered this time around comes at the ending as if this was what Asimov really meant to build towards:

It was very horrible to go mad and know that you were going mad - to know that in a little minute you would be here physically and yet all the real essence would be dead and drowned in the black madness. For this was the Dark - the Dark and the Cold and the Doom.
The other stories take us through an amusing journey of SF ideas that Asimov  had a little play with, time travel, robots, misunderstandings with aliens, and, of course, picking up on the paranoia, of which Nighfall is a particularly well-known example, hubris, fear or just plain homesickness motivating the characters.

This book is worth checking out just for the stories, but also to see how the writing was done, and to look at a slice of Golden-Age SF. Each story includes an introduction by Asimov which explains a little about how he came to write the story, and also reveals something about his rise as a writer, a bit like the cub reporter who became famous.

If Nightfall and Other Stories not already on your own shelves, or reader, or at your local library, you can also try here at Amazon and see the rave reviews while you're still at it.